Girls who experience early-life familial stress may have heightened risk of early puberty, which has adverse implications for adolescent and adult health. We assessed the association between household intactness and pubertal onset using a racially/ethnically diverse cohort of girls from Northern California.
A prospective cohort study of 26,044 girls born in 2003-10. Girls living with both parents from birth up to 6 years were considered to come from “intact” households while others constituted “non-intact” households. Pubertal development was measured using pediatrician-assessed Tanner staging for breast and pubic hair. Pubertal onset was defined as the transition from Tanner Stage 1 to 2+ for breast (thelarche) and pubic hair (pubarche). Menarche data was collected from routine well-child questionnaires. Weibull regression models accommodating left, right, and interval censoring were used to determine risk of earlier thelarche and pubarche, and logistic regressions were used to assess the risk of early menarche (age < 12).
Girls exposed to non-intact households before age 2 years were at increased risk for earlier thelarche and pubarche with significant effect modification by race/ethnicity, compared with girls from intact households. The associations were strongest among Black girls (adjusted hazard ratio [HR]: 1.60, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.29,1.98; HR: 1.42, 95%CI: 1.15,1.77 for thelarche and pubarche, respectively). There were no significant associations among Asian/Pacific Islanders. Girls who lived in non-intact households before age 2 years were also at increased risk for earlier menarche, but without race/ethnic interaction. Adjustment for prepubertal obesity did not change these associations. Associations between living in non-intact households after age 2 years and early puberty were weaker but still significant.
Exposure to a non-intact household early in life may increase the risk of early puberty in girls. Future psychosocial interventions focused on improving family cohesiveness and efforts to reduce childhood stress among families that are non-intact may mitigate these negative associations, thereby preventing future adverse health effects of early puberty and health disparities.